Unity is not a “novus” concept

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I try to remember that the reason so many people get upset about liturgy is because they passionately care. Simply put, if the Eucharist really is the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith, which it is, it makes sense that people would care about how this holy feat is accomplished. 

I find myself tugged between two poles; those that seem to believe that the “Novus Ordo” should not exist and those who believe that Vatican II did not go nearly far enough in its reform of the liturgy. These diametrically opposed positions can leave a young priest feeling a bit overwhelmed. One can certainly “read the black and do the red,” and still upset large swaths of people. 

The Novus Ordo and its rubrics leave for a very broad interpretation. Not only are there different Eucharist Prayers, and options galore when it comes to antiphons, the rubrics themselves are not particularly concise. The rubrics leave a lot of questions unanswered: how high is an elevation; how long; how are the hands held; what should be sung; how many candles; which way does one face; and the list goes on. 

I have found, whatever position one takes on any of these questions, someone will be upset and be able to cite a document that says you are quite wrong. That, which is the Sacrament of Unity, “par excellence,” divides us — the Devil is in the details.

In a short column, I could not possibly address all of the liturgical issues that have arisen in the post-conciliar Church. I can give a little insight into my own understanding of the liturgy, the choices I make as a celebrant and how one might consider their own role in the liturgy.

First and foremost, the value of the Mass cannot be understated. Again, this is why I think we have such passionate discourse about the value of the Mass. As a Dominican, I cannot help but consider the Angelic Doctor, Aquinas, when looking at anything theologically. All of the Sacraments, but especially the Eucharist, can be understood more clearly through a proper understanding of the “res et sacramentum.” If you’re unaware, find a theology major and ask. 

Simply put, in the very consecration of the Sacrament, Jesus Christ is made substantially present: body, blood, soul and divinity. In those who receive worthily, they grow in union with Christ, and with one another, “grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” This is the mystery over which a priest presides. It is an overwhelming privilege. 

This leads me to my guiding liturgical principle — noble simplicity. These two terms, which guided the reform of the liturgy, are to be understood together. For liturgy to be noble, it cannot be rushed or careless, and it must offer the best to God, in vestments, vessels and the like. But nobility without the discipline of simplicity can produce a superficial or fussy ritualism. Instead, splendor, with an uncluttered focus, is the goal of the Roman Rite. This is what I attempt, and often fail, at trying to do.

So what does this mean for you? First, the documents clearly call for “full, active and conscious participation.” This certainly means singing the hymns, responding to the prayers, moving away from distraction and really trying to pray throughout the Mass. Second, before complaints rise to your lips about any priest and how he presides at liturgy, ask yourself if you have prayed for him, offered him the benefit of the doubt and have been overly kind in the case that you’re going to offer feedback. Lastly, remember that as you come to the Eucharist, Jesus is praying, “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.”

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